Never Too Late: Whitlock goes back to school, earns her BA in Christian ministry
By Connie J. Singleton
For The Newnan Times-Herald
A small circle of family and friends joyfully gathered on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans on May 11 to celebrate the graduation of Newnan’s Clare Schade Whitlock.
That day, Whitlock received her bachelor of arts in Christian ministry degree with minors in psychology and women’s ministry, as well as an Advanced Women’s Ministry Certificate from the seminary’s Leavell College.
It was the 94th annual graduation event of NOBTS, and it drew undergraduate candidates from across the United States. The commencement was jointly celebrated with seminary graduates from NOBTS’ schools in Haiti and Angola Prison.
Students of NOBTS may take online classes and classes at one of 18 extension schools in the southeast, but a specified number of hours also must be acquired by physically attending the New Orleans seminary campus during the course of education.
Whitlock completed online classes, attended the Marietta campus of NOBTS for many of her required classes, and also made several trips to New Orleans, all while maintaining her ministry role at First Baptist Church of Newnan.
A graduation surprise awaited Clare: a friend and First Baptist Church colleague, Michael Emeott, greeted her with a smile and a hug as she processed from the ceremony. Emeott had flown standby to New Orleans on an airline “buddy pass” to support and congratulate Whitlock with graduation ceremony attendance, then immediately took a return flight to Newnan.
Whitlock currently serves as minister to women and director of member assimilation for First Baptist Newnan. She began her devotion to women’s ministry there as a volunteer in 1998.
Her contributions were recognized immediately and, in 1999, Clare began a paid, part-time administrative assistant position. As the need for a part-time women’s ministry advocate became apparent, she was identified as the perfect leader for the role and promoted to the position.
Clare’s husband, Jimmy Whitlock, is so proud of his wife’s accomplishment, a journey which had several stops along the way. “Clare didn’t have the opportunity to attend college when she finished high school, but if she had, she would’ve been a nurse,” he said.
Clare began college after marriage, but a succession of pregnancies and moves necessitated some stops and re-starts. As do many moms, she chose to put her family first and to volunteer her time with the children’s schools and at church.
“She earned her ‘Mrs.’ and ‘Mom’ degrees first,” Jimmy joked. “Throughout our marriage, though, Clare kept a burning desire to pursue a college degree.”
The stops and starts were an important part of the process, as her women’s ministry service experiences through the years persuaded Clare to change from the pursuit of a nursing degree to one in ministry. Recognizing that she has the gift of mercy, she has said to friends, “I receive personal fulfillment comforting and assisting others as I have been comforted,” and that she aspires one day to serve as a hospital or hospice chaplain.
Crisis counseling is something with which Clare is sadly already familiar, as she and the other First Baptist ministers attend at the church’s front door to daily needs of those dealing with economic and personal hardships of many varieties and visit congregation members and family in hospitals, hospices and homes.
The Whitlocks also are still grieving the loss of their son, 29-year-old Capt. Nicholas Schade Whitlock, whose death in February of this year while in service to the U.S. Air Force devastated all who knew or knew of him. Despite their sorrow, Clare and Jimmy are confident in their hope of seeing Nick again in Heaven one day and are faithfully watching for God to produce a harvest of good from their monumental loss, as promised in the Bible.
Jimmy said, “Clare’s graduation was bittersweet. I’m so proud of her accomplishments and happy for her, yet we both are heartbroken that all three of our sons weren’t physically present in New Orleans to celebrate her graduation. We do believe, though, that Nick had a front-row seat from Heaven to cheer on his mom.”
It was especially meaningful for Clare that Nick’s wife, Ashley Oddi Whitlock, made the trip with her sister from Florida to attend the graduation weekend in support of her mother-in-law.
Clare’s stalwart champion and encourager, Jimmy said, “Clare recognized God’s calling on her life to surrender to Christian service. We look forward to seeing how God will use her in the years to come.”